WSB TV did an in-depth report on a GLSP case involving a young Henry County man who was expelled from school and made to graduate from an alternative high school because he carried a pain killer pill to school when he had a tooth extraction scheduled for later in the day. GLSP helped get the criminal case against him dropped and is now trying to clear his school records so he can get a job and get on with his life. See the film by CLICKING HERE…
On September 12, 2013, Mr. D arrived in Macon from Indianapolis, Indiana, by bus looking for a policeman to take him to Milledgeville to turn himself in to the Baldwin County Sheriff Department. Mr. D’s Social Security and SSI benefits had been terminated due to an outstanding warrant for violation of probation due to a traffic ticket. Until his benefits were stopped, Mr. D had not been aware of having been placed on probation. He came to Georgia believing he would have to serve time in jail to get his income back. Instead, with help from Georgia Legal Services, he went home with $59,000 in back benefits.
Mr. D is a member of a large group of Social Security beneficiaries who have lost benefits over the past few years because the Social Security Administration had been illegally terminating or denying benefits to persons it believed to be “fleeing felons.” These individuals were alleged to have outstanding warrants against them for parole or probation violations. In most cases, they were never notified why their benefits had been stopped. Moreover, many of those whose benefits were stopped were not in fact the correct individuals, due to similar names, or who, in fact, had no outstanding cases against them. Many like Mr. D, had only a minor charge of which they were not aware or which had been long ago dismissed by law enforcement officials. Many were in nursing homes or were disabled, and far from “fleeing.” A nationwide class action lawsuit, styled Clark v. Astrue, won a court ruling that back benefits had to be paid to people who were unfairly denied them. GLSP has helped hundreds of Georgians with cases similar to Mr. D’s, most of whom were elderly and had no idea why their benefits had been stopped.
After being hit in the head in 2004, Mr. D. had applied for and was awarded Social Security and SSI benefits. He was notified by the Social Security Administration in January 2010, that his benefits were being terminated and should have been terminated as of September 2009 due to the existence of the outstanding probation warrant in Baldwin County. The probation arose from an incident in 2009 when Mr. D was returning home from Washington County where he had visited his sister. Driving through Baldwin County, he was stopped by the Sheriff’s Department for a traffic violation. He returned home to Indiana, failed to appear for his court hearing and, without his knowledge, was placed on probation for the traffic violation.
After his benefits were stopped, Mr. D believed he needed a criminal attorney to resolve the warrant issue, he sought the assistance of two criminal attorneys in Indiana. The attorneys made a couple of telephone calls to the Probation Office in Milledgeville only to inform him that he did have an outstanding warrant out for his arrest. They provided him no assistance with SSA. Mr. D. stated he had never heard of Legal Aid.
As a result of losing his benefits Mr. D. and his wife became homeless. His wife got a job as a waitress and they moved into various motels. Believing that it was the only way he could get his benefits restarted, Mr. D. Came to Macon to turn himself in to authorities to serve whatever time he had to serve.
After getting off the bus in Macon, he asked four people for directions to the police department. All four people gave him the wrong directions. He was wandering around the courthouse and ran into Phil Bond, Managing Attorney, Macon Office of Georgia Legal Services. Mr. D. explained his situation to Mr. Bond not knowing who Mr. Bond was or where he worked. Mr. Bond told Mr. D. that GLSP could help him and brought him to paralegal Leroy White to assist him.
Mr. White spoke with Rachael Henderson, GLSP Social Security Specialist and explained the situation to her. Ms. Henderson has worked on the Clark v. Astrue case since it began and had one of the earliest clients to receive back benefits. She advised Mr. White to take Mr. D. to the Macon SSA and explain that he was a class member of Clark v. Astrue which Mr. White did.
The SSA representative agreed that Mr. D. was a Clark member and informed Mr. D. that he had Social Security benefits of $59,860.00 available to him due to the Clark case. Mr. D.’s Case was reopened, and he was told that he would have to go to his local SSA to update his information so the lump sum benefits could be released to him.
Mr. White explained that Mr. D. had no money to return home and SSA agreed to cut him a check for one month of his benefit of $731.00. Attorney Amanda Smith took Mr. D. to her bank where he was able to cash the check. Mr. White took Mr. D. To the bus station to buy a ticket home and then took him to the motel across the street from the bus station. Mr. White spoke with Mr. D’s wife on September 16 and she informed him that he was at the local SSA office updating his information so the lump sum benefits could be issued to him.
Ms. Fisher was 40 years old living in a nursing home after having suffered a severe brain injury giving birth to her son a few years earlier. She was unable to speak clearly or walk, although she was responsive to visitors. Her mother, Mrs. Worth, was raising her daughter’s older son and wanted her daughter to come home where she could care for her, as well. She needed full-time nursing help to make that possible but couldn’t afford it. She applied to the state Department of Community Health’s Independent Care Waiver Program for help, but her application was denied because a nurse who evaluated Ms. Fisher said she was not mentally able to make decisions about her care and could not be cared for at home. Mrs. Worth came to GLSP for help. She said her daughter could communicate enough to indicate that she wanted to come home and that she felt confident that with the help of nurses, she could care for her daughter.
GLSP attorney Mary Irene Dickerson took the case and went to see Ms. Fisher at the nursing home. She found that Ms. Fisher could indicate answers to questions by nodding or shaking her head and pointing to things. She could propel her own wheelchair, speak a few words and even sign her own name. At one point, Ms. Fisher even said, haltingly, “Wanna go home.”
Ms. Dickerson convinced DCH to reevaluate Ms. Fisher and attended the reevaluation, which was carried out by the same nurse. At one point, the nurse read a question to Ms. Fisher about what she would do in case of an emergency involving smoke in the home. After struggling to communicate, Ms. Dickerson wrote, “Finally, client got the pen and paper and very laboriously wrote ‘call 911.’ It was wonderful. Client also responded to other questions about wanting to go to ‘mama’s house’ and ‘right now’ and that she was in Georgia.” The nurse recommended acceptance into the waiver program and said Ms. Fisher could go home as soon as arrangements could be made for caregivers. (The client’s name has been changed to protect her confidentiality.)
Twelve-year-old Barry Sanchez came to Georgia from Florida to be with his mother who had moved several months before. When Mrs. Sanchez tried to enroll her son in the school system in middle Georgia where they lived, school officials refused to admit the child because his mother’s name was not on the child’s Florida birth certificate. Mrs. Sanchez contacted GLSP for help. Lawyer Ira Foster, who specializes in education issues, noted that Georgia law does not require that a guardian’s name be on the birth certificate for admission to school if that person has custody of the child. He notified school officials that they were violating Georgia law to keep the child out of school. Barry was admitted into school on October 30, 2012, having missed school for two months because of this issue. The school district would have continued to violate Georgia law if Georgia Legal Services had not stepped in.
Ms. Baring is a single mother who was crushed by a forklift while working for a hardware retailer. She suffered severe injuries and was away from work for months while her Worker’s Compensation case was being processed. After she healed, she would have been able to return to work on a “light duty” assignment, rather than the heavy lifting she had been doing before the accident. However, she was told that to close her Worker’s Comp case and receive the back payment she was owed, she must sign a resignation letter stating she was resigning for “personal reasons.” When she went to apply for unemployment benefits, she was denied because the Department of Labor found she had quit her job voluntarily. She came to GLSP for help. Attorney Mike Tafelski took the case and was able to get her unemployment benefits, including back payments from when she originally applied. The case was in progress around Christmastime and Ms. Baring had no income. Mr. Tafelski helped her obtain Christmas gifts for her child.
Ms. Suffolk had taken out a small loan with a large finance company and was having trouble paying it back. She reached a settlement with the company that she would pay the loan, $425, over time and had paid $250 back when she again had trouble making the payments because she also has $10,000 in medical bills and other debts. She worked at a large retailer, making $9.55 an hour, and her wages were put on a card, similar to a debit card. The finance company filed a garnishment against her without reporting to the court that she had already paid back more than half the loan. A freeze was put on her wage card so she could not get at any of her money, effectively allowing the finance company to take 100 percent of her pay. Ms. Suffolk came to GLSP for help. Our attorney investigated and found that the amount stated on the garnishment was dramatically inflated above what was actually owed. GLSP was able to negotiate dismissal of the garnishments, releasing all funds to Ms. Suffolk. The finance company also agreed to file a satisfaction of judgment for the underlying debt so that it could no longer pursue any future judgments. So Ms. Suffolk was able to recover $300 and avoid further payments of $175.
Mrs. Parker made her unemployed husband leave home after he became violent with her, causing her young sons to break into the room to protect her. He left and stayed away for six months, never trying to see their children or communicate with his wife.
But then neighbors began to text her that he was hanging around on Mrs. Parker’s porch at night and sitting in his car near the youngest son’s school bus stop during the day. Then he began showing up at Mrs. Parker’s place of work and trying to talk to her. She would get security to walk her to the car, but he would follow them insisting that she talk to him.
Mrs. Parker tried to get a divorce, pro se, but he wouldn’t sign all the papers, and the court rejected the case because the papers were incomplete.
Mrs. Parker made changes to her routine so he wouldn’t know where she was, but he kept showing up at her home. He once took the youngest son without asking her and tried to enroll him in school in another state. He had no address so he brought the boy back home, but kept insisting that Mrs. Parker talk to him. She called the police and offered to talk to him at the sheriff’s office or at a church, but he refused.
Her husband was getting much more aggressive, so she came to Georgia Legal Services Program for help.
A GLSP attorney in our Piedmont office took the case. She gathered evidence and spoke with witnesses and represented Mrs. Parker in court. The judge granted a 12-month protective order for her and her children and reopened the divorce case. GLSP is also working to get custody and child support for Mrs. Parker.
Mrs. Parker said GLSP’s help was invaluable to restoring safety to her life. Her attorney’s help showed her “that I wasn’t alone, someone was on my side and understood my situation and could help before it turned into a tragedy.”
GLSP handles very few divorces for clients, generally referring them out to private attorneys. But sometimes, when there is severe domestic violence involved, we can take a divorce case such as this one:
Ms. Royston came to us for help with a divorce from her husband who abused her. A GLSP attorney realized she needed a Temporary Protective Order first because the husband was still threatening her. In the midst of that process, Ms. Royston’s car was suddenly repossessed by a title company based on a title pawn her husband had accomplished by forging her name to the title.
This created a domino effect of Ms. Royston being unable to get to work, losing her job, losing her housing and living on the couch of a friend five counties away from her home.
The GLSP attorney helped Ms. Royston with the TPO, driving her back and forth for her hearing. The lawyer also negotiated a stay on the repossession action by the title company, which ultimately agreed to return the car to the client and wipe out the $5,500 debt against Ms. Royston.
GLSP is now helping Ms. Royston with a divorce, custody arrangements and child support.
Often GLSP’s legal workers go beyond the demands of a legal case to help a client achieve safe housing and economic stability. Wingo Smith did that when he represented an 80-year-old client, whose health issues had become so serious he could no longer manage the mobile home park where he had worked for 11 years as a maintenance man and rent collector. The client’s housing was contingent on his employment, so when he could no longer work, the owners sent him a letter asking him to leave and subsequently tried to evict him. With just a few days to prepare, Smith, of Piedmont GLSP, represented the client in court-ordered mediation and was able to arrange a six-month period for the client to relocate. Smith went beyond that, however, and helped the client find another place to live that he could afford.
Another client living in subsidized housing was given just 30 days to vacate due to housekeeping violations. Bonnie Miller of GLSP’s Gainesville/Athens office went to his apartment, which was extremely cluttered due to his physical impairments which made him unable to maintain the unit. Miller met with the regional manager for the complex’s owner and raised the Federal Fair Housing Act. She negotiated additional time for the client to cure the housekeeping violations. She then filed an application for the client to receive needed home healthcare services. Then she went beyond her job description and helped the client rent a storage unit and move his excess belongings there. With the help of the new home health care worker and Miller, the client was able to pass his inspection and stay in his home.
And Marta Shelton, a paralegal in the Gainesville GLSP office, did more than was expected in representing an elderly public housing tenant with depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When the client returned from a hospital stay, she found a notice from the housing authority stating that she would have to immediately relocate from her two-bedroom unit of four years because she was only eligible for a one-bedroom unit. The client requested that her son, who was living with her, be added to her lease as a live-in aid because she needed his assistance. Her treating psychiatrist and counselor sent a letter to the housing authority advising of the precarious nature of her disability and the negative effect moving would have on her. Still, a month later, the housing authority issued a notice terminating the client’s tenancy because her son was living with her. At an administrative hearing, the housing authority refused to add her son to her lease and offered her a one- bedroom unit in a much older complex in a transient area far away from her health care providers. When the client sought help from GLSP, Shelton asked for a “reasonable accommodation” under the Federal
Fair Housing Act.
The Housing authority failed to reply, so Shelton assisted the client in filing a discrimination claim with the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD immediately assigned an investigator. During the investigation, the housing authority approached Shelton and a settlement was negotiated under which the client withdrew her request to have her son added to the lease and agreed to relocate to a one- bedroom unit in her current complex. In exchange, the housing authority agreed to pack and move the client’s belongings into the new unit. Shelton supervised the details of the client’s move, including switching the utilities, donation of furniture and items that would not fit in the new unit, and finding an agency that would switch the client’s gas dryer for an electric one.
Christina Rayneri of GLSP’s Gainesville office used the Tenants in Foreclosure Act to help a client gain three months rent free in the home he was renting when it was foreclosed. The client was served with a legal action to remove him from the property after the foreclosure. But Rayneri investigated and discovered that the party seeking to evict the client did not have legal title to the property and lacked standing to file a dispossessory action. So she was able to stop the eviction and negotiate a consent agreement under which the client was allowed to remain in the property for three months without paying rent while he found another place to live.